This International Women's Day we're excited to bring you a conversation with celebrated author Kate Mosse, founder and director of the Women's Prize for Fiction. We talk to her about her inspiration and advice for female writers, the upcoming Women's Prize and her #WomanInHistory campaign.
You’ll be celebrating 27 years of the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year - how much progress do you think has been made since its conception? What are the obstacles which are still there for female authors?
The WPFF changed the dialogue about women and writing, gender and reading, representation and diversity and the invisible, centuries-old barriers to women’s work being taken as seriously as men’s writing. Our aim, then as now, was to celebrate and honour women’s voices, and become the first port of call for women’s writing. We have achieved so much, but there’s still a lot to be done to ensure diverse voices – in terms of ethnicity, class, race, age and geography – get heard, that every sort of woman who wants to write feels she has the opportunity, and to keep flying the flag for women’s voices.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s day is ‘Break the Bias’. How do you think we can eliminate - or at least reduce - bias in the world of publishing?
There’s no such thing as a ‘neutral’ literary voice, so remembering that any story, brilliantly written, is for everyone and that every author has a right for her voice to be heard.
Mentoring, like you offer to the winner of your ‘First Chapter’ competition, provides invaluable support to writers at the beginnings of their careers. What other resources would you suggest to someone who is just starting out?
There’s a huge amount of material available these days online – the WPFF has a huge advice section on its website and podcast – so people can more easily access advice. We also have our ‘Discoveries’ programme, in association with Audible and Curtis Brown Creative, to mentor and support new writers. In general terms, entering competitions, visiting publishers’ websites, joining writing groups or online classes linked to local libraries and bookshops, anything that’s about being part of a community of writers will help.
Your #WomanInHistory campaign has been joined by supporters from a wide range of fields. What do you plan for, or hope for, this campaign as it progresses?
I was blown away by the reaction – thousands of women and men from all over the world engaged with the campaign – when we launched in January 2021. As a result, I’m writing a major book on how and why women disappear so easily from history (to be published by Mantle in October 2022), inspired by my own personal family history and discovering my great-grandmother was a novelist too. There is also a documentary series based on the campaign and book in the pipeline.
You've written 9 novels and short story collections of your own. What was the catalyst to write your first ever novel?
What drives me is great storytelling, allied to a passion to tell under heard and unheard women’s stories. Both my fiction and nonfiction are about putting ‘ordinary’ women (by which I mean not queens or royal mistresses) centre stage. It’s telling all of our lived experiences that matters, not just the stories of a few.
Any advice for aspiring female authors just starting to put pen to paper?
Write every day – little and often – in order to find your writing voice. Five minutes a day is better than no minutes. And read, read, read – you learn as much from the books you don’t enjoy as those that naturally appeal to you. Also, keep going. Everyone loses heart in the middle of a novel and wonders if anything’s working. But you must push on until you have a finished first draft. Only then can the real business of writing – that’s to say, the rewriting, the editing, the reworking – begin.
What do you enjoy the most about the writing process and what do you struggle with?
I love that first moment of inspiration, like a finger running down your spine, when a story, a character, a plot twist, a landscape first comes to you and you think ‘Yes, there’s a story for me here.’ I love editing the first draft, when you really have a sense of the shape of the book and you know what you need to do to fix it. But the last weeks of editing can be tough – when you’ve worked everything so many times that you can no longer see the wood for the trees – and there are no surprises.
Who are the up and coming authors we should keep an eye out for?
The Women’s Prize longlist 2022 will be out on 8th March, so that’s a great starting point. Also, our campaign with Good Housekeeping – which highlights ten authors 35 and under – is a great guide to the classics of tomorrow on your bookshelves today!
You can read more about Kate's work, including her #WomanInHistory campaign, on her website.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 longlist will be announced on 8 March; The shortlist on the 27 April; and the winner on 15 June.
Kate’s adaptation of The Taxidermist’s Daughter will open the 60th Anniversary Season at Chichester Festival Theatre 8 – 20 April 2022.